Be Aware of the Post-Holiday Blues!

February 2, 2016

A lot of attention is paid to seniors and holiday depression, but what about after the gifts have been returned, the menorah packed away, and the stale fruitcake thrown out? Loved ones and caregivers need to remember that winter begins within days of the major holidays, so after they wrap up, there are two months of cold weather and short days ahead. For those who still find plenty of joy during the holidays, the anticlimax the following months represent can be emotionally challenging. Others who experience holiday depression may find some relief when they’re over, but chances are, the next couple of months may still present challenges to mental and emotional health.

The causes of depression are as mysterious and complicated as the remedies, but there are a few things to keep in mind during this time of year. First, the holidays may have brought much-needed time with family members who may otherwise not visit regularly (particularly the grandchildren and great-grandchildren), which means feelings of loneliness and isolation may creep back in the next couple of months. Also, colder weather may affect both health and mobility, which can add to feelings of helplessness and dependence. Another risk factor associated with the winter months and shorter days is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Though the “seasonal” aspect of its name implies a temporary condition, don’t be fooled by the short duration; it can be severe and often debilitating.

If you suspect your loved one or care client is suffering from SAD, often there are some simple things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms. Because SAD is a partly due to a vitamin D deficiency from lack of exposure to sunlight, the easiest and most common remedy is to get outside (weather permitting) and soak up some rays; however, this is not always possible for reasons unrelated to weather, such as limited mobility or other health conditions. In that case, check out light-box therapy, dietary supplements, or cognitive therapy. If the seasonal blues persist, they may be suffering from a more permanent or chronic type of depression; the trick is identifying what’s causing it and what treatments to seek. For example, is it due to a chemical imbalance requiring depression meds? Or is it due to more situational or emotional factors, such as grieving the loss of independence, mobility, or health? In this case, counseling, behavior therapy, quality time with family, or even a new pet may provide some relief. If recognizing and addressing depression isn’t difficult enough, there is also the possibility that symptoms of depression that may be caused by something else, such as hearing loss. Conversely, depression may be misdiagnosed as dementia.

What is most important is that you stay connected with your aging loved one all year long, but particularly during the holidays and throughout the winter. Loved ones and caregivers need to be vigilant in your observations. You know them best, and that makes you uniquely qualified to detect changes in behavior and emotional state. Incidentally, African-Americans tend to be under-diagnosed and undertreated, so they may need extra urging and support with seeking help. The good news is, Medicare now covers mental health benefits, so there is help out there that previously didn’t exist.

As much as we’d like to prevent, delay or deny it, we’re all getting a little older every second. It is as much the human condition as it is inevitable, but some of us are better equipped to come to terms with and embrace it than others. It serves us well to remember that, and it serves our aging loved ones even better, since understanding some of the struggles they face is the key to treating them with the love and compassion they deserve.

About the Author

Doug Breuer is co-founder of and has worked in senior care for the last 9 years for the State of Oregon. From investigating cases of elder abuse to managing the delivery of long term care to residents of Central Oregon, Doug has been involved in all aspects of senior care.

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